Friday, April 29, 2011

Communicating a Vision

During the spring trimester of my first year in college, I participated in an off-campus college program where I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico with a Mexican host family, went to school, and continued to learn Spanish that I had started during the first trimester of my freshman year in college. When we weren’t in school or with our host Mexican families, the group of us and our professor traveled extensively to numerous archeology sites, many museums and others areas of cultural interest. It was 1977 and I was ready for all sorts of adventures.

My roommate, another college freshman, was even more adventurous. I remember when he came back from a three day weekend to Acapulco, filled with numerous stories. He described to me the cheap hotel that he found, the amazing beaches that he visited, and the wondrous sites of this Pacific coast city. The more he talked about the white sandy beaches and the friendly people I just had to go.

So, when our next three day weekend arrived, I got up in the middle of the night and took the midnight bus to the coast. This was not your typical American Greyhound Bus line with plush seats and streamline highways. It was the midnight school bus for people with little money and everything they owned with them. This, at times, would include chickens and other animals and numerous pots and pans. I don’t remember the bus ride other than it being loud and bumpy.

With little sleep, I arrived in the shining city of Acapulco and found the recommended hotel. I asked for the cheapest room like my room mate in Cuernavaca did. I got one next to the stair well with no window, no bathroom and only a screen door for a door. It was not what I had pictured nor exactly what he had described.

Then, I changed into my swim suit and headed out to the white sandy beaches. My roommate had described a place out on a point at the end of a particular bus line where there were free hammocks under large thatched roofed huts. I went out there and discovered that I had the whole place to myself. But on further investigation, I discovered there was a reason that no one was around. The ocean waves out on this point were two plus stories high. When I walked down to the beach to consider some swimming, the waves were quite intimidating if not terrifying. After a bit and with the start of a sun burn, I grabbed the next bus back to the city.

By then, I really wanted to go swimming in the ocean so I walked from the hotel down to the local beach and just dove in. After a couple of minutes, many Mexicans just stopped swimming and started staring at me. Finally, one of them asked me in Spanish, “Hey gringo. What are you doing here?”

“Swimming,” I replied.

“Why here?” they inquired.

“Because this is where the ocean is,” I responded.

“Why aren’t you swimming with the Americans?”

“Because I live with a Mexican family in Cuernavaca.”

“Oh! Welcome to Mexico. Welcome to Acapulco.”

And I went swimming the rest of the afternoon, the only, very white, sun burned red headed gringo amongst hundreds of Mexican families.

Later, when I had dried off, I walked down the beach and ran into a young American couple. I don’t exactly remember if they were lost or needed help with purchasing something at the market, but in the end given what ever good deed I had done, they invited me back to their very American hotel and we had a meal together. The contrast was over the top startling. One part of the day I was in Mexico and the next moment I could have been in a hotel along the beach at Atlantic City, New Jersey.

After a lousy night of sleep (having a screen door as a hotel room door will do that to a person), I decided to head back home to Cuernavaca. It took many hours with much haggling to get a bus ticket back to my host family. Once I was on the bus, I started to dose off from shear exhaustion. Then, the bus stopped and the Mexican police came on with loaded guns. They walked down the aisle until they came to me. I answered a couple of questions about what I was doing on the bus and where I was going. My answers must have been pretty comical and non-threatening because after a moment, the head of those who had stopped the bus shouted something that ended with “stupid gringo” and stormed off. To this day, I am not sure why we got stopped but others have told me that the police more likely thought I was a drug runner. But one look at me, a by now a very sunburned and exhausted American, who did not have a clue about was going on, and they knew they had not found who they were looking for. In the end, I returned to Cuernavaca around midnight and stumbled home for a good night of sleep. In the morning, my roommate and I had a long in-depth conversation about his trip and my trip to Acapulco. His vision and my reality were miles if not oceans apart.

As a leader, we forget that some days the best visions are mostly incomplete. Usually, they are vague and abstract. Therefore, the followers naturally fill in the blank spots and create expectations in the process. At times, we forget this because we are so focused on the vision. Nevertheless, when followers listen, they expect the reality of the vision, and the journey toward this vision to be what is described. Often they are not prepared for the actual journey, nor the experience once they get there.

Reality can be difficult. For me, it was more adventure than I could handle. Next time, I will pack more sun screen, plan more carefully and take the vision plus the journey in a more cautious and thoughtful manner. As Warren Bennis reminds us, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Hopefully, we as leaders can become better at creating the vision and defining the vision so that when the followers translate it into reality, it does not have so many hurdles and a wicked sun burn to boot.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Comfort Zones

Like many things in life, it all started in college. One year I simply pushed too hard to keep up with my classes and homework, and thus ended up running on fumes for way too long. The result? I got mononucleosis or simply “mono.”

At the time, this viral infection was causing me to have a constant headache, sore throat, swollen glands plus overall exhaustion and fatigue. I could barely stay focused in or out of class. Finally, not knowing what to do, I went to the college infirmary. There I was diagnosed with mono and told to spend some days sleeping in the infirmary until I was rested and no longer contagious.

I do remember on the first afternoon of my stay in the infirmary an older doctor came in to check on me. He told me I had the “kissing disease” and asked if I knew how I had gotten it. Being a cheeky fellow at the time, I wanted to reach out and knock three times on his forehead. “Hello,” I wanted to say. “It is the mid-70’s and I am a young male in a four year liberal arts college in the midwest. Do you think kissing had anything to do with it?” But instead, I mumbled something about over doing it. That night they brought me a dinner tray from the school cafeteria with soup and crackers.

The following morning they bought me a breakfast tray with more soup and crackers. Midmorning, they brought me a can of 7-Up and more crackers. I can not remember much about the rest of my stay in the infirmary other than being brought crackers with everything. The result was that my bed was covered in cracker crumbs. I got up on numerous occasions to sweep out the cracker crumbs from between the sheets, and they still kept showing up. They were every where. A couple of days later, I left of the infirmary, vowing not to eat crackers in little packets ever again.

To this day, I am not a fan of crackers in little packets and I do not like eating breakfast or any other meal for that matter in bed. When I am really sick, which is a rare occasion, I still want to eat at a table. No crumbs in bed for me.

As I move through this spring, I am convinced that more and more people have comfort zones and default to them when confronted with change. I also am convinced that more and more people have discomfort zones and that they will do anything they can to avoid these difficult places. Like me with crackers in little packets and eating a meal in bed, we avoid these places, and as a result, at times deny ourselves the opportunity to learn or do something new or different.

This spring I encourage you to identify your own comfort and discomfort zones. I also encourage you to learn the same information them about those with whom you work with on a regular basis. This will help you be a better leader when change happens.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Planning Ahead For 2012

With many organizations engaged in their annual budgeting cycle at this time period, I thought it would be good to share with all of you some important dates for 2012.

First, the 2012 From Vision to Action Leadership Training will again be held at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Coralville, Iowa on the following dates: March 7 - 8 - 9, May 9 - 10 - 11, September 12 - 13 - 14 and November 8 - 9, 2012. The price will be as follows: 1participant per organization: $ 1,950.00, 2-3 participants per organization: $ 1,925.00 per person, and 4+ participants per organization: $ 1,900.00 per person. Registration is due by 12/9/11 with a $200 deposit. Full payment is due by 2/3/12. Cancellations received in writing before February 3, 2012 will be fully refunded, minus a $ 250 processing fee. No refunds will be made for cancellations after February 3, 2012.

Second, the Spring 2012 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable will be held on April 12 - 13, 2012 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Clive, Iowa. This newly remodeled facility in the Des Moines area is quite nice and will make a great location to meet. The cost for the Spring Roundtable will be $ 295.00 for both days and the one day Roundtable attendance rate will be $ 195.00. Here is a link for those of you who want to see where we will be meeting:

Third, the Fall 2012 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable will be held on September 20 - 21, 2012 at the Brick Arch Winery (116 West Main Street) in West Branch, Iowa. This newly opened facility has the perfect accommodations for large and small group visiting. Our second floor meeting room will overlook the Herbert Hoover Historic Site, including his birthplace, and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. There will be a catered lunch with multiple choices and, of course, an optional wine tasting afterwards. The cost for the Fall Roundtable will be $ 295.00 for both days and the one day Roundtable attendance rate will be $ 195.00. Here is a link for those of you who want to see where we will be meeting:

When thinking about 2012, I am very excited about the Spring 2012 Executive Roundtable moving to the Des Moines area so more senior teams from central Iowa can afford to come together. I am also extremely excited to be hosting the Fall 2012 Roundtable in West Branch, Iowa, my adopted home town. Both Roundtables in combination with the 2012 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, our 18th time for offering this unique and in-depth learning experience, make planning for 2012 something I am looking forward on a daily basis.

P.S. If you want me to reserve a place for you and members of your team for the Fall 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable on September 22 - 23, 2011 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Coralville, Iowa or for any of the 2012 events listed above, do not hesitate to e-mail me. There is always room at the table for good people seeking new and better ways to find direction in the midst of change.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Real Work of Leadership and Change

Last night, I was reading the May 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine and came across an article called “The Twitterfly Effect” by Linda Tischler. The essence of the article is about how the Rhode Island School of Design hired a new president, John Maeda, in December of 2007 who was charged to “define the school’s relationship with a new era of digital technology and global society while preserving the best of the school’s culture and mission.” One of his first goals was “to establish a more open form of leadership, in part by using digital tools to help spark conversations.” These tools included launching a president’s blog, tweeting and having a personal Facebook page. On the March 2, 2011 after the release of a new strategic plan designed around a more interdisciplinary framework for undergraduate studies, the RISD faculty voted “no confidence” in the president and the provost.

As he explains in the article, “his cyberstyle leadership was a misstep at a conservative campus battered by the recession.” He also acknowledges that “he understands that social media can only take you so far in redesigning leadership. All those great hopes for leading by blogging, tweeting, and emailing proved inadequate to the gritty business of persuading an actual living, breathing constituency to follow his direction.” As he continues, “... now I realize that what I thought could work in the digital era doesn’t have the same impact locally as it does globally. People don’t want more messages; they want more interactions. There’s no perfect memo where you can press SEND and get connected, or Facebook group you can join to be committed.”

Now he is leading in the “old-fashioned way: building relationships one at a time, having coffee with faculty, jogging with students late at night, offering free pizza as an inducement to get them to show up and talk. These interactions are time-consuming, high-bandwidth, interactive, fiscally expensive and unscalable.” In short, he is building trust, buy-in, and community.

When I read this article, my first thought was “when did building relationships become old-fashioned?” Of course, they are time-consuming and interactive. Relationships do take time, energy and commitment because they are relationships. Commitment, buy-in and trust are investments. What you feed, grows is not fast but it is powerful.

My second thought was that this man needed a good executive coach who would have pointed out on day #1 that people bond with people before they bond with a strategic plan. A fine executive coach could have advised this college president that having a clear sense of direction is powerful, but it is worthless unless people are willing to follow. Every good leader needs good followers. However, the best leaders know that the best followers are actually partners and colleagues rather than simply lemmings running in a specific direction.

Finally, social media has its place in change. Recent world events have proved this point on numerous occasions during the last 12 months. However, cyber-leadership is not the foundation for sustainable change. Cyber-communication can help but we are people first and foremost. We follow people and this means we need to have time and space to engage with each other.

In my opinion, “old fashioned” strategic dialogue and relationship building takes place best in person, not over the internet. As Napoleon said so many years ago, “Don’t talk to your troops until you can see the whites of their eyes.” I believe we are wired for relationships and we all want healthy relationships with others. Nevertheless, we only form relationships by being interactive with others on a regular basis over time. This dialogue process happens on multiple levels, e.g. seeing, hearing and feeling, rather than simply being connected to an internet feed.

John Maeda learned some important lessons as a new college president at the Rhode Island School of Design. We, thanks to Linda Tischler’s fine article, also have the opportunity to learn and relearn some important lessons about leadership, too. Old fashioned relationship building does make a difference in the short and long term process of finding direction in the midst of change.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Four Leadership Mistakes We Keep Making - part #2

Picking up where we left off last Monday, let’s explore the last two leadership mistakes that leaders keep making.

First, leaders forget that getting rid of obstacles to change does not equal empowering others to act. It may help but it is not the same thing. When we get rid of obstacles that block action, we may have to deal with disempowering bosses who with hold or do not provide key information. We also may have to deal with structural barriers such as too many layers of management where people second guess and criticize actions being taken. We may even have to re-examine our performance measurement and reward systems. When we take these actions, we send a signal to others in the company that change is going to happen.

But one result of removing all of the barriers to change can be people feeing like deer-in-the-headlights, overwhelmed and fearful. From past Executive Roundtables, and previous leadership trainings and readings, we know that what we believe, experience and observe all influence our actions. When barriers are removed, some people will experience an undercurrent of fear even if the changes are good and important to be made. For these people, the devil you know is better than the one you do not know.

On the other hand, when we empower others, there has to be psychological safety which is the combination of emotional support and assistance in problem solving. This will involve on-going coaching and on-going communication and dialogue. Through this level of sharing and analyzing, goals are clarified and important learning takes place.

From my experience, empowered people have confidence in their ability and their knowledge, and in their team and their company. They believe they can make the right decisions and they believe they are role modeling what is most important. Furthermore, empowered people can make choices about how to achieve predetermined outcomes and goals. They believe they are engaged in meaningful work. In short, empowerment is the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to have the confidence and clarity to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes, i.e. meaningful work.

Stephen Covey in his book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (Free Press, 2004) reports that empowerment is held back by the following factors:

- 97% - Managers afraid to let go

- 93% - misaligned systems

- 92% - Manager lacks skills

- 80% - Employees lack skill

Given the above, our choice as leaders, who want to empower more people and to teach them new behaviors, is to take the following steps.

First, we need to get better at role-modeling. We must be trustworthy, and routinely build greater levels of personal, strategic and organizational trust, plus improve our own character and competence.

Next, we need to get better at creating a shared understanding of vision, strategy, mission and core values. This will only happen if we are willing to schedule the time for a greater level of strategic dialogue.

Then, we need to get better at aligning people, systems and expectations. The better we clarify our expectations the better people will perform.

Finally, leaders often forget that building a team is not the same as maintaining a team. In the beginning, the goal of most teams is about defining a common problem and solving it. As Ruth Wageman, Debra A. Nunes, James A. Burruss and J. Richard Hackman in their book, Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes To Make Them Great, Harvard Business School Press, 2008, write that we need the right people and a compelling direction that is clear, challenging and consequential if we are seeking better levels of team work. They also point out that we need a solid structure, i.e. define exactly what the team is to do strategically, a supportive context, i.e. access to the resources they need, and some team coaching which will help them to evolve, learn, and grow over time.

But building a team is not maintaining a team. The later requires us to “build heritage relationships,” i.e. build relationships before you need them and then focus on staying connected to them once they are on the team, role modeling collaborative behavior before, during, and afterwards, making sure team leaders are both task and relationship oriented, plus helping team leaders to understand the challenges of role clarity and task ambiguity. For more detail, I suggest you read the following article, “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams” by Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson, Harvard Business Review, November 2007.

This week, practice empowering more people, doing a better job of role modeling new behaviors, and maintaining your teams. It will make a world of difference.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Four Leadership Mistakes We Keep Making - part #1

I have been thinking this morning about a retreat I did recently. When the senior team gathered, we explored three key questions. The first one was “How do we grow the number of people who use our services given the current economy?” Those gathered felt they needed a better tag line. I pointed out how their current strategic plan had encountered entropy, the degradation of motion to non-motion. I also explained that they were not structured for growth, just the maintenance of day to day operations.

The second question was “Where do we want to end up?” While this is an interesting question, I explained to them that a better one given the first questions was the following: “What is our definition of success?” What intrigued me was that none of the senior people around the table had a common definition or understanding of success. By now the CEO was bewildered.

The third question was “How do we start changing our culture to not resist change?” Before I let us dive into this subject, I asked those gathered “What was their culture?” and “What should not change when they grow?” As they explored these interesting questions, not one of the senior team referenced their mission statement. I thought the CEO was going to stroke out because in the pre-meeting to the retreat he told me that the current mission was very important to his team and his company.

There are four mistakes leaders keep making when wanting to initiate change. We will explore two this Monday and two next Monday.

First, many leaders forget that communicating a vision is not teaching people new behaviors. When communicating a vision, we need to review Marcus Buckingham’s insights in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005. As he wrote, “To excel as a leader .... You must become adept at calling upon those needs we all share. Our common needs include the need for security, for community, for authority, and for respect, but for you, the leader, the most powerful universal need is our need for clarity. To transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future, you must discipline yourself to describe our joint future vividly and precisely. As your skill at this grows, so will our confidence in you.”

The key when communicating a vision is to recognize that we must communicate for buy-in and understanding. We are speaking to anxieties, confusion, anger and distrust. We are not speaking as though we are only transferring information. John Kotter in his book, The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations, Harvard Business School Press, 2002, offers wonderful insights about how to do this important leadership action. Nevertheless, leaders do need to teach people new behaviors and we will explore this in more depth next Monday.

Second, many leaders forget that strategy and short term wins are two very different things. First, strategy is an extensively premeditated, carefully built, long term plan designed to achieve a particular goal. Next, strategy needs to be adaptable by nature due to unforeseen variables rather than presenting a rigid set of instructions or tactics which has the potential to create organizational vulnerability. Finally, the best strategy serves an important function in promoting ongoing evolutionary success.

On the other hand, short term wins, not win, are designed to energize change agents, enlighten the pessimists, defuse the cynics, under mine self-serving resistors, and build momentum. The key is to recognize that short term wins must come early and fast, and, at times, can be cheap and easy. They are visible and meaningful, penetrating emotional defenses by being unambiguous. They also speak to powerful players whose support you need and do not have. For more information, I suggest you read the aforementioned book by John Kotter.

While we develop strategy over time and through robust in-depth dialogue, we also must always create short term wins. We do this through careful planning. Kotter’s on-going research notes that effective short term wins take place between 6-18 months after change has been initiated and meets the above criteria. Kotter’s research results also point out that companies “that experience significant short term wins by 14 - 26 months after the change initiative begins are much more likely to complete the transformation.”

The other key to creating short term wins is the presence of better management. As we know, generating short term wins takes great effort. The problem in achieving them often falls into two categories, either “insufficient management expertise” or “lack of commitment by managers.” Both of these can be improved through in-depth training and effective and regular coaching.

This spring do not think that communicating a vision is teaching new behaviors and that strategy and short term wins are the same thing.

P.S. For those of you who came to the Spring 2011From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, thank-you so very much for your participation.

For those of you who missed it, you missed a great opportunity to meet and network with wonderful people who did some very in-depth, creative and thoughtful thinking about the challenges before us all.

For those of you who are planning ahead, the Fall 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable will be on September 22 - 23 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa. Mark the date on your calendars and e-mail me if you are coming. Given what we all experienced last week, I am sure this is going to be a fabulous event.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Being a Successful Company

During the first session of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I ask a simple but powerful question: What are the key building blocks for generating sustainable organizational success? In essence, I am asking the students to define what it takes to be a successful company over time. While the answers are always unique and interesting, the reality is that there is never one right answer. Instead there is a configuration of key components which when linked together can make a huge difference.

First, I have yet to meet a successful company that did not have a cohesive leadership team that can engage in robust dialogue. I have sat in on many of these meetings and they are respectful but very engaging. People do not hesitate to share their thoughts and their experiences. People are forthright and strong. Numbers, metrics, research and ideas fly around the room like planes all trying to land in Chicago at the same time before a storm. No one is asleep in the control tower. To say there are intense dialogues is to understate the dynamic nature of the discussions. They are rarely loud, as in shouting, but they are always extremely focused and deliberate. When asked how the meetings of this nature are, I like to state, “All the lights were on and everyone was at home.”

Second, all of these successful companies have a strategic plan that integrates with an annual and quarterly performance management system. This combination offers freedom, defines responsibility and measures for accountability. Every strategic plan comes with a workable budget so people can monitor and display fiscal responsibility too. These plans are also in full alignment with their mission, vision and core values.

Third, every one of these companies has communication systems that cascade information down into the organization in an accurate and timely manner. I am not talking e-mail bursts or social media postings. Instead, there are large and small group settings plus one to one coaching sessions held on a frequent basis that are productive, informative and helpful.

Fourth, each of these successful companies have flexible and disciplined employees who can utilize their strengths and talents to achieve their goals. They remind me of the best carpenters and craftsmen and women I have meet who measure twice and cut once. These same companies hire extremely smart and then focus on retaining these key people. They know that the right person on the right seat on the bus, using a Jim Collins metaphor, can be a force multiplier.

Finally, all of these companies have a binary culture, using another Jim Collins term from his book, Built To Last. In a binary system, there are ones and zeros. As I like to explain it, you are either one with the company or you are out of the company. This clarity of alignment generates a cohesive organizational culture based on shared purpose or mission, and is empowered by a set of defined core values. Everyone who works there is hardwired with this perspective and while it looks almost cult-like from the outside, from the inside it is very dynamic and focused to fulfill the mission.

In the end, it is less about what they do as much as what they represent. Successful companies and successful executives are very much alike. They are of good character and they live up to their mission and core values that they hold. In essence, they are trustworthy, and thus people are deeply dedicated to making them be successful.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On Being a Successful Executive

Everyday now, I meet more and more people in leadership positions who want to be successful. In seminars and strategic planning consultations, people will take me aside, asking for feedback and executive coaching. They ask questions like “How am I doing?”, “What can I do better or differently to be more successful?”, and “Am I missing anything which might make us more successful?” When I hear questions of this nature, I am reminded of a quote by Danny Meyer in his book, Setting The Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, HarperCollins, 2006, where he writes “the courage to grow demands the courage to let go.” Right now, quite a few executives need to let go of old ways of thinking and working in order to be more successful.

Given my work, I am fortunate enough to meet a lot of exceptional and successful leaders. Most are quite humble and all are very dedicated to the work they are doing. No two are exactly alike and yet most share some very common characteristics.

First, all of them have the strength and clarity of character to surround themselves with exceptional people who are smarter than they are. These leaders understand that they do not have to be the center of attention. They instead have to build a team where all focuses on the purpose or mission of the organization. In short, like does attract like in successful companies.

Second, these same executives network extensively so they maintain a greater perspective. These leaders know “The Law of the Instrument” or at times called “Maslow’s Hammer” which was first coined by Abraham Maslow in 1966 about the over-reliance on a familiar tool. As he said “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” They recognize the importance of generating a broader perspective in order not to frame everything up as hammers and nails.

Third, they share deeply with a select group of advisors and confidents. In this deeply trusted environment, these leaders think out loud, share their fears and worries, explore ideas, and ask for help. They know they need this time because it generates a greater degree of personal clarity and more focused action. The dialogue and analysis is a powerful way of preventing strategic blindness.

Fourth, they do not loose track of key goals and metrics. Most carry with them in hard copy or electronic version their strategic plans and their current metrics. They firmly believe in planning their work and then working their plan. They do not hesitate to hold themselves and others accountable to the goals and the metrics.

Fifth, they focus on organizational culture. They fully comprehend the notion that their strategic success is totally dependent on their organizational culture. They know that successful change, customer service and the recruitment and retention of key staff are all dependent on their culture. They grasp the powerful idea that people join companies and quit those who they report to. They recognize that the culture impacts how people relate to other people.

Sixth, they stay on-message and have a clear message. Remembering that everything gets corrupted when it gets passed down into the organization, successful executives stay on message for 3-6 months repeating over and over core themes. They also tie these core themes to successful outcomes. It may not be fancy but ask a successful leader their message and they can give it to you in a nutshell.

Finally, these same executive develop a meaningful life outside of work which includes exercise, family time, faith, and community plus personal hobbies and/or interests. They recognize and know burn-out. They also know how to recharge. Most of them manage their energy more than their time, and this makes a word of difference.

In the fast paced, multi-dimensional world that we live in these days, I am again reminded of a Danny Meyer quote from the aforementioned book. As he explains, “doing two things like a half-wit never equals doing one thing like a whole wit.” Successful executives do a whole lot of things but what makes them successful is that they do it with their “whole wit.”

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, April 11, 2011

Looking Back to Look Forward

As I prepared for the Spring 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable which will take place this coming Thursday and Friday, April 14 - 15, at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Coralville, Iowa, I went back and reviewed my notes from the influential books I had read during the last 20 years. One book that caught my eye and made me think was edited by France Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith and Richard Beckhard called The Organization of the Future, Jossey-Bass, 1997. As the editors noted, “we are moving toward a network society rather than an employee society,” and “the organization of the future must balance the internal concern for getting the work done with the external concern of serving the market.” These were powerful insights in the 90’s and they still ring true today.

One chapter within this book that really got me thinking then and now was written by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a favorite author of mine, called “Restoring People to the Heart of the Organization of the Future.” Here in the mid-90’s, she outlined six trends that were transforming the work place:

1. From fat to lean: the new staffing principle

2. From vertical to horizontal: the new organization

3. From homogeneity to diversity: the new workforce

4. From status and command rights to expertise and new relationships: the new power source

5. From company to project: the new loyalty

6. From organizational capital to reputational capital: the career asset

Sitting here today in 2011, I am amazed and delighted with how on-target she was over 14 years ago. Each of the above trends are part of the new normal and especially important given what took place in September 2008.

One element within the chapter that also has me thinking this week is her comments on the emerging role of leaders and managers. She notes back in the mid-90’s that leaders and managers will need to do the following four things:

1. conceive and execute complex strategies

2. share and protect intellectual property

3. manage the public-private interface

4. provide intellectual and administrative leadership

I agree that today’s managers do need to develop and deliver on complex strategies. Intellectual property rights continue to be a very important issue as we enter into a more global economy. The public-private interface continues to be a major issue particularly as state and federal governments seek new solutions to their current funding challenges. And finally, providing strategic leadership and operational leadership will not get any easier.

But the key for all of us here today is to realize that these insights from the mid-90’s are now a regular part of the lexicon within today’s business dialogue. Therefore, we as business leaders in the early part of this decade need to sit down and carefully study what people are thinking about the future now. We need to reflect and read extensively about the current and emerging trends. We must recognize that if the book, The Organization of the Future, back in 1997 was so on-track about the future, then there are numerous other authors and futurists today who are just as on-track for what the world will be like in 2025.

This week at the Spring 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable we will be thinking and talking about the challenges of today and the challenges of the future. If you can not join us, I strongly encourage you to create your own roundtable experience within your organization so you can focus on the future in a proactive manner. You may be surprised and delighted by what you discover.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Thursday, April 7, 2011

For The Love of Food

I am a foodie. I like good food. If it is locally grown and organic, the better. If it comes from our own gardens in the back yard, the best. I also love to cook and I love to eat healthy food with friends and family.

I do not have a collection of cook books but I do have some favorites. A good recipe can make a world of difference when it comes to putting together a fine meal. This in combination with the right pots and pans can make a meal a marvelous adventure.

When I travel, I like, when possible, to eat good food and to have long meals with clients. These are working meals but when good food is present the conversations are better and more meaningful. People just open up, relax and explore ideas differently with good food.

But I know from experience that the good food is only half of the story, the other part is the atmosphere surrounding the food. Good food in a poor service environment just feels wrong. Great service and poor food does not sit well either. It is the combination of the two that makes all the difference.

Right now, too many people who are planning for the future are stuck in the “Tyranny of the OR,” a concept first presented by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their wonderful book, Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, HarperBusiness, 1994. No one reads this book anymore because Collin’s more recent titles like Good to Great and How the Mighty Fall have become best sellers. But both of these books are built on the foundation of the book, Built To Last.

Within Built To Last, there is a concept called the “Tyranny of the OR” vs. “The Genius of the AND.” As the authors explain, “Instead of being oppressed by the “Tyranny of OR,” highly visionary companies liberate themselves with the “Genius of the AND” - the ability to embrace both extremes of a number of dimensions at the same time. Instead of choosing between A OR B, they figure out how to have both A AND B.”

For example, these companies can have the following:

- purpose beyond profit and a pragmatic pursuit of profit

- a core ideology and a vigorous strategic plan

- Big Hairy Audacious Goals and incremental evolutionary progress

- ideological control and operational autonomy

- investment for the long term and specific demands for short-term performance.

As the authors continue, “We’re not talking about mere balance here. “Balance” implies going to the midpoint, fifty-fifty, half and half. A visionary company doesn’t seek balance between short-term and long-term, for example. A visionary company doesn’t simply balance between idealism and profitability; it seeks to be highly idealistic and highly profitable. A visionary company doesn’t simply balance preserving a tightly held core ideology and stimulating vigorous change and movement; it does both to an extreme.” The challenge is to embrace both.

When good food and good service are experienced together, then the whole experience is profoundly different. There is no balance as much as a synergy of the elements. The results are transformative.

This spring I encourage everyone to go out and eat good food in a great restaurant. Or if possible, purchase or grow good food, cook it, and then serve it to friends and family. The results will be worth the effort.

For when we come to embrace the “Genius of the AND,” we will understand the comments by F. Scott Fitzgerald when he wrote,”The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” This is exactly what visionary companies do every day.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Lowly Shoe Horn

I bought a new pair of shoes recently. For some of you, this may not seem like such a big deal but for me it is, and it has been my entire life. Born pigeon toed, i.e. the toes point inward when walking, I wore corrective shoes until I was in the later years of elementary school. Those huge, clunky leather shoes with lacing and all sorts of special stuff attached inside and out did not make me a fan of shoes. As a child, I was known to take off my shoes the minute I entered the house.

Furthermore, having one foot bigger than the other and really wide feet didn’t help. The whole process of buying shoes was not my favorite thing to do mostly because they rarely fit well. However, once I found a pair that fit well I was all smiles and sunshine.

The most recent pair that I bought did not follow the normal process. Usually, this involves the measuring of my feet and all sorts of comments about them being different sizes and such. Then comes the line of boxes and trying on different sizes. Pair after pair go by the wayside until I find one that barely meets my expectations.

This time however the salesman asked what kind of shoes I was wearing and I told him, “Dress Rockports size 12 wide.” He looked at my shoes and then asked, “Do you like them?”

“Yes,” I replied. “They are the work horses of my business attire. Shirts and ties come and go. These Rockports have stood the test of many miles.”

“Good. Let me get you a new pair in brown and a new pair in black,” he responded.

Moments later, he came out with two boxes, one stacked on the other. I took off my shoes and he pulled out the black pair. Then, he handed me a shoe horn. I started to smile. I haven’t seen a shoe horn in years. My Dad had one when I was very young and I tried it a couple of times. Never really thought too much of it other than the shoe horn was an old man’s tool. Still, here I was with a new pair of shoes so I thought to myself “Why not?” and used it.

Wow! My foot slipped right in and the shoe fitted perfectly. I was amazed. I used the shoe horn when trying on the other pair and it happened again. A perfect fit. I looked at him and didn’t know what to say. My wife, Jane, was with me and said, “the black ones look quite nice on you. Why don’t you go with them?” So, I bought them and asked if I could get a shoe horn, too. Now I use a shoe horn every day when putting on my shoes. It is a metal one, not very fancy but it sure makes a difference when putting on shoes.

I was in a meeting recently where major decisions about the future of a company were being made. All sorts of big ideas were being bounced around. Numbers, charts and graphs were every where on the walls. I listened for quite a bit and finally asked, “Has anyone talked to the customer about what they want and need? The voice of the customer is an important part of this process.”

You would have thought I had said “the emperor has no clothes on and he is ugly.” There was a pause as people pondered the question and then the answers came forward with more charts, graphs and statistics. I smiled and thought of Mark Twain when he said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The voice of the customer was not part of the discussion.

That is why in part I want to travel this spring with my shoe horn and bring it to every strategic planning meeting. It is not because my feet are weird or old. It is not because I am a luddite in love with ancient technology. It is simply a reminder of a fine shoes salesman who asked me “What kind of shoes are you wearing? Do you like them?” In the midst of planning for the future, taking the time to listen to the customer can yield valuable information. They may surprise you with what they know.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, April 4, 2011

Strategic Perspective

A long time ago on what now seems like a distance planet, many leaders, managers, and consultants spent a lot of time talking about who was moving the cheese. It was the late 90’s and Spencer Johnson had written a book called Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1998.

In Board rooms, conferences, seminars, and strategic retreats, executives discussed the four imaginary characters within the book called Sniff who sniffs out change early, Scurry who scurries into action, Hem who denies and resists change as he fears it will lead to something worse, and finally Haw who learns to adapt in time when he sees changing leads to something better.

These executives examined the idea from the book that change just happens and thus we should get ready for someone or something to move the cheese. They talked about monitoring change, i.e. “Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old,” and the need to adapt to change quickly, i.e. “The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.” Finally, they talked about enjoying change, i.e. “Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese,” and how the cheese will just keep moving.

It was an odd time for me with so many people talking about cheese and mice. It was like the Wisconsin Diary Board plus the Iowa Department of Natural Resources had taken over the world of leadership and management education. All were consumed by cheese and mice.

Now, I do like a good piece of cheese and I respect how certain books can become a best-seller, but the core messages within the book were not new or extremely insightful. They were nevertheless well packaged and well marketed so many people referenced them on a regular basis.

While cheese and mice were consuming the world of business in 1998, I had instead designed and was teaching the first From Vision to Action Leadership Training. As part of this early work, participants read Robert E. Staub’s book, The Heart of Leadership: 12 Practices of Courageous Leaders, Executive Excellence Publishing, 1996, where he explained that leadership involved five basic tasks:

- “ensuring that the future is being planned for, anticipate and secured”

- “serving the needs and interests of, and eliciting the support from, key constituencies”

- “keeping the team, organization, or enterprise focused on substantive results while meeting the requirements of current realities”

- “building a long-term, value-added network of relationships”

- “tying it all together strategically”

While very few if any people now talk about mice and cheese in the world of business, the above components of business are explored on a regular basis. The key lesson for us here today is to enjoy best sellers but not to be consumed by them. We instead need to focus on and pay attention to the fundamentals of leadership. For over time and through the world of change, it is the mastery of these key concepts and skill sets that will make a major difference.

This week, enjoy a good slice of cheese, steer clear of mice, and return to the fundamentals. In the short and the long run, this will help you handle change better.

P.S. For those of you who are looking for a good article, I encourage you to read “Cultivate a Culture of Confidence” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the April 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, If you like the article, you might also enjoy her most recent blog entry at the Harvard Business Review web site called “Four Reasons Any Action is Better than None,” Happy reading!

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257